Equivalent Trade

When he was eight, equivalent trade was his world. His toys were formulae and circle equations, his friends books, his games complex transmutations. He drew arrays in the dust and laughed in the golden light.

When he was ten, equivalent trade was his hope. He measured elements and sketched circles; he calculated and theorised. Equivalent trade should do anything, could do anything, would do anything. So he believed.

When he was eleven, equivalent trade was the cruellest thing imaginable. He stood in front of a dark gate and watched himself dissolve—an arm for a soul, a leg for his hubris; for in equivalent trade, everything has value and therefore everything can be taken away.

When he was twelve, equivalent trade was his job. He used it to fight, mechanically, unthinkingly, and smiled a bitter smile at other alchemists's dreams.

When he was thirteen, equivalent trade was his bane. He tried to escape it, chasing a fairy-tale, desperately seeking a myth in hope of banishing it. And he failed.

Now he is sixteen, and a woman tells him that there is no such thing as equivalent trade.

And all he can do is lean his head back and laugh.